WHEN the stockmarket is close to a record high, the chances are that recent returns will have been very strong. The terrible tendency among investors is to assume that those returns will continue. But the higher you go, the harder it is to keep rising at the same pace.

When I visited America for a story on pensions last autumn, I was struck by how few people failed to grasp this point. Public pensions have return targets of 7-8% for their portfolios. When challenged they tend to cite their 30-year record of achieving those numbers. But that record makes it less likely, not more that they will hit their targets.

The easiest way to think of this is via the bond market. In 1987, the yield on the ten-year Treasury bond was just under 9%. Since then it has fallen to its current level of just under 3%. So not only did bond investors get a high yield in their early years,…Continue reading



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